Today I chaired a session here in Jaipur, India at the literature festival with three men who know something about war and conflict. Brit Rory Stewart, New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson and the Washington Post’s David Finkel.
We faced a packed audience – hundreds in an outdoor tent with overflowing crowds hanging out as far as the eye could see – to hear a robust discussion about a variety of occupations – Sri Lanka in the north and east, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen. What is the responsibility of the writer when examining occupation and why is even raising the issue of occupation so rare in the West (instead these problems are “liberations” or “freedom struggles”)?
I pushed all of them to question their own position towards occupation reporting. What should readers gain from their insights? Why are so many in the West ignorant about life for those under occupation?
Anderson talked about Sri Lanka and his recent trip there for his magazine. In a post-conflict environment, the Rajapaksa regime maintains an “occupation” of the north and east, with Tamils clearly discriminated against. He spent time with Defence Secretary Gotabaya and observed to me that the man is delusional with a massive touch of hubris. It’s an arrogance helped by a supposed victory over terrorism. Alas, the “peace” is now one of repression and outright racism. No wonder the Israelis and others admire the Colombo regime so much; they’d behave the same way if the world was more understanding.
We all reflected on the power of the pen and how it should be used; responsibly. When I brought up Wikileaks and its ability to challenge the inherent cosiness of the mainstream media, Finkel told the story of the Collateral Murder video. All three seemed to be very wary towards Wikileaks and its release of countless documents. They believed that journalists still had a role – on this I agree – but revealing the scientific details of a story is surely vital to increase public trust. The audience regularly cheered when I said the mainstream media often doesn’t tell the truth about events. Credibility is clearly a problem that isn’t being addressed.
It was a great session because all of us addressed problems and crimes committed by us, the West. It’s not just a problem about “them”.
So what to do about it…